How safe are Delhi and Mumbai for women? Reshma Kulkarni and Swati Daftuar find that safety and freedom for the fairer sex come at a price in the country's two big metros.
In 2010, Delhi and Mumbai reported the highest number of rape cases in the country. But the numbers themselves were telling. While Mumbai stood at a high count of 194 cases, Delhi had a whopping 414. To coin a phrase, “All cities are unsafe, but some are more unsafe than the others.”
In fact, the entire NCR region is suddenly witnessing what seems to be a manifold increase in the number of crimes against women. Gurgaon perhaps, can tentatively be called the worst hit. In 2011 alone, Gurgaon saw a real estate boom, 37 rape cases, new job openings, even more glittering malls and 23 molestation cases. Noida, too, continues to remain unsafe for women. Cases of stalking, molestation and mugging are piling up, and certain pockets of Noida are not safe even during daytime.
Of course, the recent debates and discussions were sparked off a few weeks earlier, with the Gurgaon police's suggestion of a blanket curfew for women. But Delhi? It's always been infamous, with age-old stories about road-rage that can get you killed for scratching a car and where it's possible for a woman to be abducted from a busy mall. In our country's capital, a young girl walking home after work has to navigate a life-threatening obstacle course.
“It's their fault, the modern women,” scoffs a Delhi auto driver who refuses to give me his name, but sounds extremely confident of his theory. “You cannot try and be like men. If you do, you're bound to get into trouble.”
This modern woman, where is she? What is it that she's doing wrong? To begin with, she's working. And while the treatment meted out to women and men may be different, the work hours are the same for both. And then, after she gets back home late, hopefully unharmed so far, she might even decide to go out again. This is unacceptable, because the Gurgaon administration has already specifically advised women to stay home after 8 pm. This is the best way to prevent rape and molestation, along with the rest of Deputy Commissioner P.C. Meena's long list of dos and don'ts, all very helpful.
Take the example of 25-year-old Smita, who loves Delhi. She moved here from a small town in Haryana after landing a job with a reputed software company, and says that in the past few months, this city has grown on her. She lives alone in a posh South Delhi residential area, and recently, Smita was groped and then followed by two men on her way back from work. “They followed me all the way back till my house. I half ran into my building. This is the first time something like this has happened.”
Things are different for Archika Srivastava, a Mumbai-based media professional, who is originally from Delhi, where she would find it tough to go out after 8 pm for the fear of being stalked or teased. “In Mumbai I have never faced this problem. Twice it happened that my flight back to Mumbai from Delhi has landed after 12 midnight and I have travelled from the domestic airport to Malad in rickshaw all by myself but have never felt unsafe. Though one cannot claim Mumbai to be 100 per cent safe as there have been many cases here too, but for me, I can breathe easy here. I can walk in the city alone, I can enjoy my independence, and I don't have to depend on anybody to take me out — something that I remain grateful for!”
Like Alankrita and Smita, there are countless young and old working women in both cities. Many of them keep late hours, working in places like BPOs, bars, malls, Airlines, Media houses. They use public transport, taking auto-rickshaws, buses, metros and local trains. And while women in both cities have complaints, the very nature of these complaints differs greatly. Unnati, an NGO worker living in East Delhi says, “I moved to Delhi before college and I've lived here for a long time. I've seen it get worse and worse for women. I used to be able to take the auto at night without thinking twice. Now, I note down the auto's number, keep my phone in my hand and have the nearest woman's cell number on speed dial. I'm constantly afraid.”
It's a different story in Mumbai, where a PR professional, Prerna Jain avers: “Mumbai is a great city to be in for women, especially women working and living alone. The city offers an excellent public transport system that works through crazy rains unlike any other city in our country which would be totally thrown into chaos if it rains for days and nights at a stretch! Be it the autos, buses and cabs — all are available round the clock and help easy mobility. My experience with Mumbai has been great and it's probably the only city that offers so much of freedom to women.”
For women in the NCR region, there is no such freedom and mobility. The unwritten rule tells you to go home after sunset, walk in large groups, and practice constant vigilance. A tacit sort of agreement about the entire issue immediately puts the onus on the victim, the woman. Where was she? What was she wearing? Was she alone? The mere asking of these questions takes the focus away from the perpetrators, and puts the victim under spotlight. “I enjoy going out at night after work with my friends, and we frequently go to nearby bars and clubs. I don't behave indecently; I'm only looking to relax after work. I should have as much a right to that as men, shouldn't I?” asks 23-year-old Ruchi. “There is the idea that if a woman drinks, however moderately and responsibly, she's still asking for trouble. If a woman stays out after sunset, she's asking for trouble,” adds Ruchi.
No going solo
Of course, there has been no curfew suggested for the men, the underlying assumption being that since it is impossible to curb the violent and sexual impulse in men, it is perhaps best that after dark, the streets be left free for them to roam wild. The impression one gets is that the entire NCR region, after a certain time, morphs into some sort of a twisted version of an exclusive men's club. “We are constantly on edge,” admits Saloni, part of a group of young women from Noida who've come for a late night movie screening. “Off late, there are no impromptu plans for us anymore, no travelling solo. We have to travel in packs, make sure there is safe transport, go only to the relatively safe areas, and get back home before our families get worried.”
Tanvi Bhise, 23, is a flight attendant based in Mumbai. “I travel at all kinds of odd hours, be it dawn or post-midnight. While we have company-provided transport, whenever I have had to take public transport at times, I have never faced any problem except for being overcharged by the rickshaw-guy. I guess the novelty of seeing a girl around at odd hours has long waned in Mumbai. It's a commonplace occurrence, what with so many girls working in hotels, BPOs, airlines, film industry etc — where they keep erratic hours. Also, we do have good police network in our city.” Once again, Roshni, a flight attendant from Delhi who keeps odd hours, has something very different to say. “I know how risky it can be, but frankly, there is nothing I can do. I'm not going to leave my job, and I cannot change my hours. But I know that travelling back really late at night, even in the designated cab, can be unsafe.”
All these women, working similar hours at similar jobs, report entirely differently experiences based solely on where they live. Neither city is a completely safe haven, but it is clear that one of them has definitely made its women feel more welcome and less vulnerable than the other.